When The Levees Broke | Katrina & Social Death

I wanted to start this post with a link to another documentary about Katrina and the Ninth Ward. During our discussion in class, some people were mentioning how they were shocked there hadn’t been more (either films or documentaries) released about this catastrophe and it made me remember this documentary. It illustrates a lot of what we spoke about: government indifference toward black life, institutional barriers blacks are faced with, etc. Definitely check it out- it’s funny yet raw, I loved it!


In the next part of this post I wanted to explore this unwillingness of the government to aid those most desperately in need, coupled with a complete indifference toward the loss of housing and lives after Katrina hit. The realization that those who lost everything after Katrina, didn’t have help in rebuilding their lives reiterated for me the truth in the concept of social death. Immediately after the storm these communities failed to receive the necessary means of help and even today have seen an incredibly slow movement to rebuild this area. Most of the money that has been dedicated to the Ninth Ward have been from private resources rather than government.

This article  also further illuminates this manifestation of “non-belonging” and “non-citizenship” from the point of view of some one who lived in the Ninth Ward prior to Katrina.

“… nearly seven years later, the French Quarter and other areas of tourism and affluence are sparkling, while few improvements have been made in the Lower Ninth… Black residents of the Lower Ninth were deemed expendable long before Katrina.”



Katrina Refugees

One of the parts that stunned me about the film was the labeling of the hurricane victims as refugees. While some may attempt to make it a matter of semantics, I found it to be one of the more alienating and disrespectful media portrayals in recent memory. While the “nicest” definition I found of a refugee was “one seeking refugee” the majority of the definitions I came across contained some form of transnational travel due to war or persecution. Spike certainly did an excellent job in showcasing the outrage and backlash by individuals of New Orleans and other prominent figures ( Al Sharpton), but I couldn’t help but be moderately shocked by the lack of reaction of the audience. It was clear at this point of the film that the citizens of New Orleans were surviving in unbearable conditions but to be labeled in a manner that practically “un-Americanizes” a city and class of people was a lot to handle. What made me particularly upset is that the media became another system or institution that hindered the city’s recovery efforts. It is clear that the media is an incredibly powerful force in society but if they were to have covered this catastrophe differently would the city have been better off?  I have attached a small graph on Americans views on refugees over time. While none of these refugee groups are Americans, it shows how the general American public usually dislikes or is adverse to helping or supporting groups of individuals that are labeled refugees. Thus, while political actors and governmental agencies were extremely detrimental, I believe the media is equally as responsible for the negligence in handling this situation.

US Public Opinion Graph